August 30, 2006

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Three red imported fire ant worker ants. (Photo by Bart Drees)

  Fire Ant Awareness Week helps prevent persistent Texas pest

By Paul Schattenberg
Texas Cooperative Extension

Just because fire ants have gone "underground" for a while and are out of sight, don't put them out of mind, said a Texas Cooperative Extension expert.

"Because of the drought, fire ants have gone deeper underground and people aren't seeing as much of them as usual this time of year," said Molly Keck, Extension entomologist for Bexar County. "But don't let that fool you. They'll be building mounds and crawling all over lawns and sidewalks soon after we get a decent rain."

To help control the proliferation of fire ants, Keck and other Extension entomologists are spreading the word that the second week in September is Fire Ant Awareness Week. This year, it begins Sept. 10.

"Awareness week provides us with a really good opportunity to educate people about fire ant biology and behavior, along with some of the best ways to control fire ants," Keck said. "For example, a lot of people don't realize that fall is the best time to treat for fire ants so you don't get as many of them when spring comes."

This is the eighth year of Fire Ant Awareness Week, which was signed into law by former Gov. George W. Bush in 1998, she added.

"As part of making people aware, we encourage neighborhood and community-wide efforts toward the treatment of fire ants," said Kim Schofield, Extension program specialist for integrated pest management in Dallas. "We try to get people in neighborhoods to work together in treating for fire ants and to apply the treatment on the same day so they get the best possible fire ant suppression."

An Extension study shows community-wide control efforts could reduce the statewide economic impact of fire ant damage by $234 million annually. The statewide cost of insecticides could be reduced by as much as $313 million annually, according to the study.

Along with community efforts, Extension experts suggest using the Texas Two-Step approach to fire ant control.

The first step is to broadcast fire ant bait over the entire the lawn, Schofield said.

"It's best to apply the bait when you have at least five fire ant mounds per quarter acre," she said. "Spreading between 1 and 1.5 pounds per acre will do the job and keep the amount of insecticide that goes into the environment fairly low."

Step two is to treat any individual mounds in high-traffic areas for humans or pets, including along driveways and fence lines, and around mailboxes.

During hot weather, treat fire ant mounds in the early morning or late evening, Keck added.

"It's best to follow all granular ant treatments with a gallon of water," she said. "Putting water on mounds with flattened tops also helps bring ants closer to the surface."

In addition to chemical treatments, Extension entomologists and other integrated pest control experts use phorid flies to help manage fire ant activity. These are already being used in several Texas counties.

"Phorid flies are a natural enemy of the fire ant," Schofield said."We are introducing this natural enemy into the U.S. as another means to decrease the fire ant population so we don't have to rely on chemical control alone."

For information on setting up a neighborhood fire ant control effort, call the local Extension office.

  Drought destroying many south central Texas lawns and gardens

By Paul Schattenberg
Texas Cooperative Extension

In addition to its impact on agriculture, the extended drought has caused serious problems with lawns and landscapes in south central Texas and beyond, said a Texas Cooperative Extension expert in San Antonio.

"We've had 17 months of drought conditions, and thousands of lawns throughout the area are looking terrible," said David Rodriguez, Extension horticulturist for Bexar County. "And we've recently been getting lots of calls about plants, even hardy native plants, that are dead or dying from drought stress."

Red oak, yaupon holly, Burford holly, wax-leaf ligustrums and Southern magnolias are among those affected, Rodriguez said.

"Mostly we're seeing problems in younger, less-established trees and plants, but even older specimens are in distress," he said. "In addition, people are worried because their grass is dying or showing extensive discoloration."

While some of the difficulties with turfgrass, especially St. Augustine and bermudagrass, have been the result of chinch bugs or grubs, the vast majority are related to drought stress, he said. But applying compost can help retain a lawn's moisture.

"We normally recommend that people feather a half-inch of compost top dressing onto their lawns around the middle of October or April," Rodriguez said. "But with the current drought situation, it would be a good idea to do it now. This will help hold in the moisture and also help protect the grass from the heat. Over time it will help build soil depth too."

There may be some initial yellowing of the grass 10 to 14 days after composting due to heat and decomposition of organic matter, he said, but this is temporary and the grass will begin to green up soon after.

"Of course, the major reasons we're seeing a yellowing of turfgrass are drought stress and a temporary iron deficiency in the lawns," he said. "If it's an iron deficiency, you can green up your lawn by applying a liquid chelated iron spray."

Watering sufficiently and efficiently is another way to save lawns during drought, he added.

"People in this area should be watering about an inch per week," he said. "But it's very important to water in such a way as to get adequate penetration. And if you have a lot of clay in your soil, you need to aerate or soften it to allow more moisture to get in."

Proper watering is particularly important during water rationing, he said. "You can't afford to miss your window of opportunity for watering," he said. "And you need to water adequately to ensure there's enough moisture to last until the next watering day."

Don't assume trees, plants and shrubs are getting adequate water when watering the lawn, Rodriguez said.

"They will likely need more water than what they get from your sprinklers," he said. "Placing a soaker hose on the ground beneath the leaf canopy drip line is a good way to irrigate large trees, shrubs and foundation plants."

Applying 2 to 4 inches of a hardwood mulch around tree beds also will help, Rodriguez said.

"Mulching is the key to containing moisture," he said. "You need to irrigate, then mulch, then irrigate again. An organic mulch is one of the best types to use."

This would also be a good time to consider replacing dead or dying plants, trees or shrubs with more drought-resistant substitutes, he said.

"People may want to rethink their landscaping and make Xeriscaping choices," he said. "Well-adapted native plants, trees and shrubs have a much better chance for success during drought."

More information on drought-tolerant plants for south and central Texas can be found at

  Texas drought reaches milestone

Texas has been hot and dry for months, and a recent drought assessment by Texas Forest Service confirms what most farmers, ranchers and firefighters have already seen.

Thanks to persistent hot, dry weather, the average Keetch-Byram Drought Index (KBDI) for the state has now climbed into the top three percent of the historical average drought readings, according to Tom Spencer, fire risk assessment coordinator with Texas Forest Service.

"This situation does not bode well for agricultural interests or firefighters in the state," declared Spencer. "In recent history, there have been only two other years that the average state KBDI index reached this same level: 1998 and 2000. In both of these years, Texas experienced severe summer fire sieges."

Wildfire responses in the state since June support the growing concern among firefighters. From June 1 through August 20, Texas Forest Service fire personnel battled 578 wildfires that burned an estimated 101,774 acres across the state. Fire departments using the Texas Forest Service on-line fire reporting system to record their fire responses reported 2,884 fires that burned an estimated 70,587 acres over this same period.

The average drought index value for the state has continued to climb, even though recent rains have lowered the KBDI drought index for counties in the Texas Panhandle and Trans-Pecos regions. The continued climb of the drought index shows how extremely dry the rest of the state is getting, said Spencer.

Information about fuel (vegetation) dryness across the state is available on the Internet at KBDI drought averages for counties can be accessed at A 30-day precipitation deficit map available at also helps visually portray why and where drought conditions are most severe in the state.

As hot and dry as it is, it doesn't take much of a spark to start a wildfire, and it doesn't take much wind to increase the risk of home losses and the danger to firefighters and residents alike, said Gary Lacox, wildfire prevention chief for Texas Forest Service.

"It is absolutely imperative that everyone — and I do mean everyone — take every possible precaution to prevent wildfires from occurring," Lacox stated.

The fire prevention chief urged strict compliance with outdoor burning bans and proper disposal of smoking materials. He also said that use of welding and grinding equipment around dry vegetation should be avoided if possible and closely monitored for accidental fire starts. Even driving through tall, dry grass and weeds should be avoided, as hot catalytic converters could ignite wildfires.


  Readers' Gardening Tips

Gary Freedman writes: "I love okra but so do fire ants. Since I don't want to use toxic chemicals, I have come up with a rather novel way to control these pests. First, I dig a shallow trench on all sides of the row and fill the trench with mulch and water. Then I sprinkle diatomaceous earth around the stem of each plant. Because I use the watering trench, the DE sprinkled at the base of the stems remains dry so it will do its 'nasty' little work on the exoskeleton of the fire ants. Be sure to check the DE regularly and replenish as needed."

Have a favorite gardening tip you'd like to share? Texas Gardener's Seeds is seeking brief gardening tips from Texas gardeners to use in future issues. If we publish your tip in Seeds, we will seed you a free Texas Gardener cap. Here's a chance to get published and keep your head in the shade! Please send your tips of 50 words or less to the editor at: Gardening Tips.

  Did you know...

You can do a simple soil test to see if your soil is alkaline or acid. Place a pinch of garden soil into a bottle or glass of vinegar. If the vinegar starts to bubble, your soil is alkaline. If it doesn't bubble, then it is acid. With the exception of east Texas and a few other locations, Texas soils are generally alkaline.



'Buttercream' lantana, one of several plants being introduced by Greg Grant, Pineywoods Native Plant Center research associate, at this year's Fabulous Fall Festival October 7. (Photo by Greg Grant)

  Upcoming Garden Events

The Guadalupe County Master Gardeners will hold their 2006 Master Gardener Class from August 2 through November 15, at Niemietz Park in Cibolo. Classes will be every Wednesday from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. and will include at least one Saturday field trip. Registration fee is $170, with $50 refunded after completion of 50 volunteer hours. For more information please contact Ross Risz, Class Coordinator, at Or you can call the Guadalupe County Extension Office at (830) 379-1972.

The Gregg County Master Gardeners are offering a Rose Workshop led by Mark Chamblee of Chamblee Roses on September 9, 8:30 a.m.-noon, at the Gregg Country Extension Office, 405 E. Marshall, Longview. Seating is limited. $20 admission includes a container grown rose for each participant. Tickets must be purchased in advance. For more information, call (903) 236-8429.

The Herb Society of Waco will host Ann McCormick, the Herb 'n Cowgirl, September 12, 9:30 a.m. in the Whitehall Center at Carleen Bright Arboretum in Woodway (east of Waco). Regular readers of Texas Gardener will recognize Ann McCormick as a frequent contributor on the subject of herbs. Ann will be speaking on "Passion in the Garden," a discussion of the symbolism of herbs and flowers. The meeting is open to the public. For directions, contact the Arboretum at (254) 399-9204.

The Herb Association of Texas and the Antique Rose Emporium will host A Celebration of the Herbal Harvest: A Focus on Culinary Herbs, September 22 through 23, San Antonio. The event will include a road trip, cooking classes, herbal refreshments, lectures and a vendor fair featuring locally grown herbs and related products. To register or for more information, contact Beth Patterson at (830) 257-6732 or e-mail

The Garden Conservancy will host a tour of five private gardens in Dallas, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., September 23. The tour is self-guided. The conservancy will also sponsor similar tours in Galveston, October 14 and Austin, October 21. Admission to each garden is $5, no reservations required, rain or shine. For more information, visit or call toll-free (888) 842-2442.

The Arbor Gate will sponsor “Kindergarten for Rose Lovers...Learn About Teachers' Pets!” presented by Mark Chamblee on Saturday, September 23, at 10 a.m. Admission is free. The Arbor Gate 15635 FM 2920 Tomball. For more information, call (281) 351-8851 or visit

ArtScape, September 23 and 24, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., is the Dallas Arboretum's first ever fine art show and sale. The two-day art fair is a family-oriented event that will kick off the Dallas Blooms Autumn festival. ArtScape will feature artists from around the country, the Tour de Fleurs race, the Ultimate Tree Houses exhibit, entertainment and many exciting classes. ArtScape will complement Ultimate Tree Houses, a juried exhibit of 12 tree houses that will be on display throughout the garden. In addition, this year's event will kick off with Tour de Fleurs a 10k, 5k and 1 mile fun run. What a great way to start the weekend! For additional information, please email

The Aransas/San Patricio Master Gardeners will sponsor the annual Hidden Garden Tour September 30 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., Rockport. Enjoy touring Rockport and the surrounding area and tour some of the area's private gardens plus Green Acres Demonstration gardens. Bus tours will be available for $15 and tickets must be purchased ahead. Self-guided tours are $10. A plant sale will occur at Green Acres on the day of the tour. Green Acres Demonstration gardens, located at the Aransas County Extension Office (611 E. Mimosa — behind Monroe's Furniture on Hwy 35) is the start of the tour on September 30. Maps and additional tour information for the Hidden Garden Tour can be obtained by contacting the Aransas County Extension Office at (361) 790-0103.

The SFA Mast Arboretum's annual Fabulous Fall Festival plant sale will be 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, October 7 at the Stephen F. Austin State University Intramural field on Wilson Drive, between College and Starr in historic Nacogdochess. A great selection of rare, unusual, and Texas-tough trees, shrubs, vines, herbaceous perennials, grasses and groundcovers will be available. Greg Grant, Pineywoods Native Plant Center research associate and contributing editor/columnist for Texas Gardener magazine, will introduce his pink 'Pam Puryear' Turk's Cap, 'Buttercream' Lantana, and the 2006 Texas Superstar, 'Henry Duelberg' Sage. Many of the rare Aromi hybrid deciduous Azaleas will be offered as will a good number of the rarely available, Texas native, Southern Sugar Maple (Acer barbatum). Proceeds from the plant sale help support the SFA Mast Arboretum, the Ruby Mize Azalea Garden, the Pineywoods Native Plant Center and educational programs. Please help support these great Texas treasures. For more information, call (936) 468-4404 or visit

Castro Garden Club's "Fall Tour of Homes" in Castroville will take place October 7, 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. Tickets will be available September 1 and can be purchased in advance by writing Castro Garden Club, P.O. Box 10, Castroville, TX 78009. Tickets will be sold the day of the tour at the Landmark Inn State Historic Site. Ticket price will include admission to the Landmark Inn State Historic Site, courtesy of The Friends of the Landmark Inn, to visit the newly renovated Gristmill. Proceeds from the tour will benefit Castro Garden Clubs special projects. Admission: $12.00 per person. For more information contact: Priscilla Garrett, (830) 931-2262; Bonnie Keller, (830) 931-2614; or Joan Menard, (210) 677-8979.

Ernesto Velez Koppel of Colombia will lecture on his country's flower industry October 11 at Texas A&M University. His talk is the second in the Distinguished Lecture Series on International Floriculture. Koppel is the Association of Colombian Flower Growers and Exporters board of directors chair. The lecture series is sponsored by the Texas A&M horticultural sciences department's Ellison Chair in International Floriculture. The presentation will include background on what led to the formation of the Colombian flower association, known as ASOCOLFLORES, its current activities and its plans for the future. Koppel also will describe the group's global impact. For further information, contact Tammy Landry, program coordinator, at or (979) 845-7342.

The Austin Herb Society celebrates Herb Awareness Month in October with HerbFest, Saturday, October 21, from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. at the Sunset Valley Farmers Market, located in the Burger Center, 3200 Jones Rd., off I-290 between Brodie Lane and Westgate Blvd. No entrance fee for shoppers, free parking. For additional information, call (512) 468-9126.

The San Antonio chapter of the Native Plant Society of Texas will host the groups' annual symposium Convergence and Diversity: Native Plants of South Central Texas, October 19 through 22, San Antonio. The symposium will feature guided tours to natural areas, seminars on native plants and a special program on cooking with native plants. For more information, contact (210) 733-0034, (830) 997-9272 or visit

The Johnson County Herb Society will hold its Herbal Thymes Show and Symposium, October 28 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Cleburne Senior Center, Cleburne. The event will feature speakers, demonstrations herb plants and related products. For more information, contact Esther Chambliss at (817) 263-9322 or visit

The 2006 Annual Garden Tour in Victoria County will take place on Saturday and Sunday, October 28 through 29, showcasing five gardens at historic homes in Old Victoria. Imagination will be fulfilled beyond garden gates with the theme "Nature's Beauty Beyond the Gate" in fall and pre-Halloween garden settings. Highlighted garden plants will be catalogued in educational materials and for plant sale identification on the weekend of the tour. Guided tours at $18 per person are scheduled from 9 a.m. through 5 p.m. on Saturday and 11 a.m. through 5 p.m. on Sunday. Individual garden tours are $5 per garden. Workshops will be conducted on culinary cooking and holiday decorating from the garden for additional fees. For further information, contact Victoria County Extension Office at (361) 575-4581.

The Texas Gourd Society will hold its 11th annual "Show and Tell" at the Waco Convention Center, Waco, November 11 and 12 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday and from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday. The two-day show will include gourd artists, seminars, demonstrations and much more. Admission is $5 for adults; children under 12 free. For more information, visit

The Garland Organic Club meets the first Sunday of each month in the little red school house at 1651 Wall St., Garland. All interested gardeners are invited to attend. For more information, call (972) 864-1934 or (800) 864-4445.

Austin Organic Gardeners meet at 7:00 p.m. on the second Monday of each month at the Zilker Botanical Gardens in Austin. For more information, visit

The Dallas Organic Garden Club meets at 6:45 p.m. on the fourth Thursday of each month at the Fretz Park Recreation Center, located at the corner of Hillcrest and Beltline Road in Dallas. For more information, call (214) 676-4326 or visit

  This bulb's for you

Bulb gardening in Texas presents challenges unknown in cooler climates. Bulbs that work in Holland or New York fade in our mild winters, hot summers and uncertain rainfall. Yet, as Thad Howard tells readers in Bulbs for Warm Climates, there are hundreds of native and naturalized species of bulbs that thrive as far south as zone 9 and offer many colors, shapes and fragrances.

 $31.97 plus shipping*

Order by calling 1-800-727-9020 or order on-line.

 *Mention Texas Gardener's Seeds when ordering by phone during the month of September and we'll waive shipping charges. (Discover, MasterCard and Visa accepted.)

  Two hats are better than one!

Let your friends and neighbors know that you are proud to be a Texas Gardener with this top-quality cap. Heavy construction, six-panel, pro-style brushed cotton twill, low-profile khaki with dark green bill and logo. Buy one cap and received a second at no additional charge.

 $17.07 (includes shipping!)

Order by calling 1-800-727-9020. Not available through on-line bookstore.

(Discover, MasterCard and Visa accepted.)


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